Good News, Everybody!

Posted By on May 14, 2013 | 3 comments

Actually, it’s not good news. RIFT is apparently going free-to-play this summer. I’m pretty sure that this sucks. I feel like I’ve talked about subscriptions and F2P a lot, in general, but I find it even more frustrating when a) it’s a game that designers have said many times is not going to go F2P, b) has been championed for its subscription -> rapid content updates service model, and c) that I still have 213 days worth of prepaid time for.

I think the last bit is the one that frustrates me the most. It’s not that I’m upset with having given Trion my money – the choice I made to purchase a year’s subscription along with Storm Legion is one that I’m still reasonably happy with (despite not having actively played RIFT very much in the last couple months) – it’s that the thing that I paid for is being swept out from under me. Given that the developers have said that they have been actively investigating F2P conversion for more than a year, it is clear that they made the pay-for-a-year option available knowing full well that some part of that year would probably fall under the F2P umbrella. I don’t know whether I still would have gone for it, or not, but it feels like the negotiation is made in bad faith when one side is holding out on pertinent information (sidenote: Apple does this same sort of thing a lot, by being extremely tight-lipped about product launch schedules. Informed consumers can make decent inferences from past behavior, but lots of people still end up buying a new computer in the week or two prior to product launches.).

Now, Trion is doing that thing where they convert all of the subscriptions into “Patron” accounts – giving them perks like trainer-summoning and extra storage space or whatever – but that is a very different type of service from what those of us who paid for subscriptions were committing to (i.e. access). Trion is also introducing things like purchasable raid gear which sounds like a truckload of landmines. Theoretically, it’s only going to be the not-top-most gear, and only things that are otherwise obtainable in game, but man does this seem like a good way to destroy any sort of reasonable progression structure. Who knows though, I’ve been in a position before where I really wanted a viable catch-up option (say, to join a more progressed guild).

I’m way more worried about the social implications. Will people still be interested in running tiers-behind raids at the end of an expansion, like I was doing, when there are more direct shortcut methods to gear? If I join up with a new guild that happens to be ahead of where my old guild was in progression, will I be expected to drop $40 on a complete set of cash shop gear? Or maybe just $5 here and there to fill in holes when the boss doesn’t drop my shoes for 6 months?

Two other things they are adding are pretty standard cash-shop fare: xp/token boosts and cosmetic items. I’d like to go on record here and now that XP boosts, in particular, are a complete fucking travesty of game design. To me, they indicate that you have failed to build a game that people actually want to play – if people are willing to give you money to not play your game (or to “have” to play it less), then you should probably reevaluate the game systems. And yes, I absolutely realize that for some portion of the population in any given MMO, the “max-level experience” is all that they are really after. In fact, I’ve played with that mindset at various times. But the thing is, if you want to provide end-game-only players an opportunity to ignore the part of the game they aren’t interested in (and think that this is actually a good idea, which I doubt), then why not let them ignore the part of the game they aren’t interested in? Why not just sell them a max-level character, complete with some standard of gear that lets them actually complete whatever tier of content they want? Why even force them to bother with the leveling experience at all?

And, as a more casual player, still working through the available questing content, why would I be happy about getting some XP boosts that make me miss out on cool quests and exploration time that much faster? If I don’t have a group waiting for me, then all I have to look forward to is tooling around town waiting for an instance queue – and I’m not especially keen to get to that place faster than intended. Same thing if I am leveling up with a friend. If one of us happens to get XP boosts, and the other doesn’t, then all it does is break our ability to play at the same level. Sure, I can “just not use them”, but then I’m actively throwing away part of what my money is paying for.

I just… really, really hate XP boosting items. If you want people to experience a leveling curve and area storylines and things like that, it seems important to understand approximately how quickly a character will move through a zone. Blizzard got this completely wrong when they introduced heirlooms and refer-a-friend bonuses, and they made it so very much worse when they redid all the leveling zones in Cataclysm. Even when doing my best to avoid rest experience, I couldn’t finish an area without quests going grey on me. And, again, I could just not care about that (and tried not to), but that doesn’t meant that it isn’t completely terrible tuning.

And quickly, on cosmetic items. I’m typically glad when there are more cosmetic items available. I love customizing characters and giving them personality. I even just like collecting bags full of weird robes or hats to show off for 5 minutes and then put away. MMOs typically offer a lot of opportunity to collect things – and, more importantly, show them off a bit. So sticking the vast majority of “cool” items behind a pay wall is sort of getting old. Hopefully, they’ll end up similar to the costume items in Defiance – where the models aren’t unique, but the colors are – but I think that will be hard with the (totally awesome) dying mechanics in RIFT.


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Change is Scary

Posted By on Oct 18, 2012 |

On Saturday, October 20th, I am going to be participating in the Extra Life gaming marathon, in support of The Children’s Hospital & Research Center of Oakland. The basic premise is that I play games for 24-hours straight, raise some money, and donate it to help out sick kids. I’m taking suggestions for games to play, and will be splitting time streaming my exploits with Liore on the Machiavelli’s Cat Twitch.tv channel. Please take the time to look over my donation page, and even if you don’t want to support financially, come hang out on Saturday.

So Rift released patch 1.11, which is the lead-in patch to Storm Legion (the first expansion) yesterday. Along with it came all of the changes to the existing soul trees. There was also a bunch of rebalancing to content to theoretically keep it around the same level of challenge. That’s pretty cool, although I have no idea if it worked because once I was patched and logged in, I spent the next hour and a half panicking about how there were so many buttons and I had no idea what to press or when, and why did everything change, and but I just learned how to play, and OH MY GOD CHANGE IS SCARY!

I think Rift is sort of “known” to have tons of abilities per spec, and they’ve definitely done a reasonable job of streamlining that a bit. However, I’m still starting off in a place where I had 4 souls built out and button-mapped (and in some cases macros were built), and now I have none. A lot of abilities are no longer in the game (or now require more points than I have in their tree), but the buttons stayed on my hotbars. Several of the souls had their focus completely changed, or at least had it tweaked. Some of the time it makes sense to pair a different secondary (and/or tertiary) soul with the same primary one. Basically, I have to relearn everything all over again, and it is chaotic and daunting. So yeah, advice #1 is clear your bars and rebuild them from scratch out of the spellbook.

In the end, Trion has expanded their suggested builds (there are now something like 8 per calling/class – more will likely come with the new souls in SL) and the notes/details/tips sections for each of those builds. However, it’s still pretty easy to get lost in there. Elementalist (the one where you get to summon a rock-monster and a fire dude and an air lady and a water blobule) is still paired with Pyromancer, but I can’t tell if I’m actually supposed to use any of the Pyro spells. I know that whenever I cast a spell of a particular element, I get a buff to the next spell I cast of a different one, and there’s clearly an intended cycle to all of this. But what I found myself doing as I played around on the target dummies was really just pressing every button whenever it came off cooldown. And it seemed to be okay? But I have no way of knowing. The forums talk about using Necromancer in place of Pyromancer because of some synergy (this also indicates the probability that the Pyro spells aren’t that important anymore), so I might try that out.

The thing is, though, I had just started to really feel like I knew what I was doing. I am only a month or two into being level 50, had tagged along to a few raids (yeah, I know, can’t keep me away), and had picked out a spec that seemed easy enough to manage while also doing fairly good DPS (I think. I don’t really have a proper benchmark for this, nor do I particularly want to…). I happen to like the learning process in games, and it’s one of the reasons I felt like I had run out of things to do in Warcraft. I just also like the “now I’m going to get better” part, and it seems like that point has gone skittering off like a cat that doesn’t want to be picked up, even though it’s CLEARLY hugging time.

It’s still cool, though. The patch also lets me put ANY ARMOR in any wardrobe slot, so I will totally be able to dress up as a plate-mage. Which will go swimmingly with my completely badass Storm Legion-born melee specs! And my warrior (who was my original Rift character) gets a proper support spec, and has more reason to run around with a mohawk cat, and I hardly remember how to play her anyway, so I was going to relearn anyway! And the full expansion is only a month or so away, and everyone is feeling things out and going through similar growing pains, and I missed out on this part of the experience last time around, so it’s still exciting. It’s just… I fear change!

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PAX Prime 2012

Posted By on Sep 05, 2012 | 2 comments

Or, how Trion is awesome

I’m back from PAX, avoided the pox (this is good, it has been brutal to folks the last couple of years), signed up for betas, got some swag, played lots of games, and hung out with awesome people. So, basically, PAX!

This PAX was actually a bit different than usual for me. I spent a lot more time exploring the non-video game content, and my wife spent a lot of time in panels. As a conscientious observer of things that are wrong in the gaming world, she attended a number of panels on LGBT issues, as well as harassment and community building. She also attended a couple on gaming and children (one of which I went to, and was hosted by GeekDad and GeekMom), since that is on the horizon. I will hopefully get her to do a run-down of the panels later, but for now, more on my experience.

The very first thing we did was head to the Trion booth. The purpose here was two-fold. First, we both really love Trion. They seem like awesome people making awesome games, and the folks at the last couple of PAXes have definitely carried that attitude with them. It’s great to have a chance to talk to people working on games that I love. They also gave out cool swag. We came away with RIFT shirts, plushies that make a gigantic hell monster alien from Defiance look cuddly, pins, and a mousepad. Most importantly, though, we came out with tickets to the Trion after-party. And that was the second reason for heading directly to Trion. They throw a really cool party, and kept the food and drink flowing! I don’t necessarily want to give away the secret, but there are a ton of (fun) parties, and I feel like they deserve the love. It’s a great time to mingle with the Trion team, ask them some questions, etc. So, a big thanks to Trion for a second year in a row!

On Sunday, Telaan and I went back around their booth and got a super-awesome demo of Storm Legion stuff. It wasn’t publicly playable, but someone from the QA team (I think it might have been the head? She seemed familiar from the party, but there was much drinking…) was running around in the world while another Trion employee answered questions and directed her to do random stuff if it would emphasize his point. And let me just tell you, it was awesome. When we walked up to the booth, they were in a Dimension (the in-game housing), building a crazy ladder to the moon. “We weren’t sure if they put in a ceiling, and we wanted to find out.” was the answer I got. The tools are incredible – I believe they are a subset of what Trion’s artists have access to – and she was just dropping things (like a freakin’ tree) out of her bag and into the world. I asked about bag space, and they said they’d be open to changing the way things were stored if it became an issue.

We never did see the ceiling, because we decided to teleport to a huge vista and then start killing things with the new Mage soul. Which, by the way, I have totally dibsed. No backsies. We also saw the big zone event live (and you know it was live because it didn’t work the first time, so they had to reset it), and found out about some secret achievements that will not stay secret for long, but which I will hold over your heads until then! So yeah, I’m excited about what I saw out of Trion and RIFT.

Doesn’t PAX have more than just RIFT?

Why yes, it does! I’ve already gone on for too long, and RIFT was definitely a highlight of the show for me (not unexpected, given my current gaming focus), but there were some other things, which I will lay out in the form of a list!

  • Casual card games!
    • Cards Against Humanity was a big hit, even though it sold out literally everywhere all the time. A friend managed to pick up an expansion or something, and we got the basics out of that, and it was hilarious.
    • We Didn’t Playtest This At All was also great. I picked up a copy of it, but it’s basic rule is “play a card, do what it says”. Games last from one turn to ~10 minutes, and it is similarly wacky and fun to toss down.
  • Pen & Paper / Board Games
    • Reaper Bones minis – My whole crew ended up painting minis the series (you know, the one with the Kickstarter that reached almost $3.5 million?) We have a ton coming, so thought we’d give it a shot. The minis are plastic, but really hard to break. They also look great, and take paint very well! I’m excited for the larger shipment. We happened to also be sitting painting them right next to one of the sculptors from Reaper who was literally working on the Dwarf Mage for the Kickstarter in front of our eyes. This is awesome.
    • Microscope – This year was my first time going to the “find a GM, play a game” room, but I think I’ll make a point of it in the future. We played Microscope, which is a cooperative/non-cooperative history building game. You lay out a brief overview of a timeline, and then start adding in epochs and events and scenes within each of those. When you get to the detailed level, you roleplay out the scenes Fiasco-style. It was great fun! And only $20.
    • Dungeon! – Apparently Wizards of the Coast is going to rerelease the classic board game (which I had never played) with updated art, etc. The rules are the same, and are all printed right on the board. There were 5 copies in existence, and all of them were at PAX. Three of us managed to sit down with a copy, and had a good time with a low learning curve. Also only $20, and I will totally buy a set when it is available.
  • Video games
    • There are too many to really list. The ones that stood out are here:
    • Borderlands 2 – the line was massive, so I didn’t play (it was available at some other booths, but it’s coming out next week so I figured I could wait).
    • Defiance – Trion’s 3rd-person MMO shooter / SyFy TV series. I’m actually really intrigued. They had a PvP arena thing going, and the game looked gorgeous (it’s cell-shaded like Borderlands, but still somewhat unique), and the loadouts were fun. I believe they said it is primarily skill-based, so you level up your shotgun skill by… shotgunning people. And there’s crafting and all sorts of goodness. More on this later. (Note: It will not be cross-platform. Not because Trion doesn’t want do it, but because the console companies have made it hard. They seemed disappointed not to be able to have it work that way.)
    • Forge – A Kickstarter-funded (or semi-funded? I’m not sure, really) game that’s buy-once-play-for-free. There will be DLC, but it’s intended to be cosmetic, and no leveling system. They are mixing 3rd-person shooters and MMO-style abilities in a battle arena thing. I really enjoyed running around as an assassin in the game I played, and have decided to back them.
    • Hawken – F2P mech-based shooter. I expect that their F2P mechanic will be something I’m not into (it didn’t seem totally locked down, yet), but it’s always fun to run around in 40-ton mechs and shoot people.
    • Smite – A gods-based MOBA that plays more like a 3rd-person shooter than a top-down click-to-move game. I hear that the portrayal of certain gods is considered offensive (I think there’s a semi-sexy Kali, in particular), but the actual gameplay was fun. It’s F2P and made by Hi-Rez Studios (Tribes Ascend), so we’ll have to watch how that pans out.
    • League of Legends – It’s hard for me to talk about LoL, since I have a lot of conflicting feelings. I think the gameplay is fun, and especially so when you are playing with/against friends. I think the community needs work, but apparently so does Riot. I think their F2P model is pretty good, but I dislike just how vast their character base is and how hard it feels to learn the game as a new player. Anyway, they were having the North American Regionals, and it was fun to watch and be a part of an e-Sport event that large.

I’m sure there’s way more, but this got kind of out-of-hand. I had a grand time at PAX, and I am looking forward to a number of new games and betas to play. It seems like I’m also going to have to figure out the point at which I am comfortable Kickstarter-ing things, and what level of F2P I am comfortable with. Because, if you just looked at PAX, those two things would seem inevitable.

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I had a dream last night…

I did, actually, have a dream last night. And needless to say, it was complicated! It started off with me playing central midfield for Manchester United on a private, indoor field somewhere in Buckingham Palace. I think the Queen was playing right back, because we eventually switched positions after Sir Alex Ferguson yelled at us for letting in a late goal (we still won the game, and added an extra while being yelled at). It’s mostly unimportant, except that afterwards, I ended up having tea with the Queen and talking about various things. After a lengthy sidebar into the politics of chance and birth (those who know me will find this not-at-all surprising), she asked me about something more realistic, and I responded with “Now that I’m 50 in RIFT, I hope I don’t get caught up in all that raiding-related stuff again…”

We talked about it for a bit, but then there was some sort of peasant revolt and my time with the Queen came to an end (also, the alarm went off). It really struck me just how vivid my memory of the dream conversation was, but I suppose it makes sense, since it is something that I’ve worried about for a while as I have approached the level cap.

The Queen disapproves

Her thoughts on the matter…

<Wayne’s World doodly-do dream transition> Dreeeeam weaver…

As background, I was an active raider in WoW for both Wrath and Cataclysm, and previously to that I was primarily a dabbler. I ran the occasional Molten Core, Zul’Gurub and AQ20 in Vanilla, hit the brick wall that was casual Maulgar/Gruul at the beginning of Burning Crusade and then returned to work on part of Karazhan towards the end of the expansion. For a large part of the time prior to actually raiding, I followed along with the community at places like Elitist Jerks. And despite the fact that I could easily have spent the time raiding during those days, I never found myself actually doing it. Some of it was a hope not to have to switch guilds/servers, some of it was a feeling that I’d never be good enough to participate (I was still healing instances as a primarily shadow-specced priest at the time), and some of it was simply the fact that I didn’t feel like I had the time (although I very definitely did, at that point in my life).

In any event, I eventually got over the hump, found a guild of folks that I mostly liked – and a class, druid! – and started raiding (10-mans, which probably helped a lot) a couple of nights a week. For 4 years or so, I basically maintained somewhere between two and three nights a week of raiding. I changed guilds a couple of times, raid sizes more than once, roles (tank/melee dps/ranged dps/healing with an alt), and found myself in a raid-leader type position on a couple of different occasions – most recently through the end of our efforts in tier 11, 6/7H Firelands and 6/8H Dragon Soul. During that time, I learned a ton of things about WoW, about the way that I like to play games, and about the way that I don’t like to play games. I spent countless hours reading about my class (and other classes), raid bosses, looking at gear/gem/enchant options, working with simulators and spreadsheets, and practicing – both on target dummies and on raid bosses.

Eventually, I burnt out, like so many people before me. I could tell that I wasn’t looking forward to logging on for raids – and I was barely logging in outside of raids. So I decided to retire. Overall, I really enjoyed my time as a “hardcore” (I use the term loosely, and primarily with regards to attitude, rather than as any indication of standing within the raiding community) raider. I’m glad I raided, and I had a lot of fun playing a game on a semi-competitive level. It’s burned a deep love of WoW into my heart, but unfortunately, a lot of the passion is gone. And, given that games are supposed to provoke passionate responses, it was time to (mostly) move on.

Snap back to reality

I took a bit of time off, and now I find myself playing RIFT. I had played originally during the beta and at launch, and really enjoyed the game. However, my enthusiasm sort of died down when I was approaching max level the first time (my first character stopped at level 43 of 50, my second at 41, etc). There were so many things that I loved about RIFT – and still do – the soul system is incredibly complex, but also totally customizable; the Defiants’ reliance on machines to power their magic; the fact that they actively reward you for exploring, rather than removing those easter eggs as exploitative; the simple fact that there are dyes and wardrobes. Stuff like that really endeared the game to me. I also met some of Trion’s people at the PAX party last year and got a super good vibe from them, which makes me want to support them.

But the thing that made me stop playing, originally, was the end game. It seems silly, but it was all there from the beginning – reputations, high-level crafting, dungeons, experts, raids, tiered PvP. I distinctly remember a conversation where I said, “I really like RIFT, but I don’t think I can go through all that shit again. Especially not while I’m still playing WoW and running heroics and LFD and raiding.” So I ended up letting my subscription lapse and walking away from RIFT for a while.

Well, a month or two ago, several of the Cats started to return to RIFT, and while I hadn’t been playing WoW with them, I’d kept in touch via IRC and other games (like SWTOR). I wasn’t playing WoW anymore, and so I figured I’d give it a try. I have to say, I’m loving it. All the things that were great the first time around are still great. There has been a ton of added content over the past year, the first expansion is on the horizon, and they are adding housing! Seriously, that is amazing. There is a ton to do, and a ton that I’m looking forward to doing! I’m enjoying it so much that I’ve even pre-paid for a year (and the expansion), and didn’t feel at all bad doing so.

The only thing is, I’ve just finally hit max level for the first time, and I’m kind of nervous about getting sucked back in to the numbers-based game. I really don’t want to. I mean, I want to participate with the guild when it goes on raids and rift-hunting and everything else. But I also really relish living in that happy obliviousness that is “I picked this spec because the burning rock pet (which I have cleverly named Gorignak) is the coolest looking of the pets, and who cares if it’s any good!” I want to keep spending my time exploring and finding the Ancient Cairns and jumping off waterfalls for titles. I am not really worried yet, but I can feel the min-max tug, and some of the “Congrats! Let’s talk later about all things wizard!” comments in guild chat are hard to ignore. I don’t like playing stupid, but… well, maybe I do.

Or, maybe I just want to live in ignorant bliss for a little while longer. We’ll see how it goes.

Okay, fine, I was using a skeleton for a while!

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